Archive for the 'Essays' Category

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American Poet, Essayist and Translator J. Chester Johnson, whose new memoir is Damaged Heritage: The Elaine Race Massacre and A Story of Reconciliation (Pegasus).

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to consider your own family’s leanings when it comes to filiopietism, that veneration, often excessive, of ancestors or tradition. Does this exist in your own circle of relatives? Do people excuse behaviors because it’s just how the family has always been? Do you have beliefs based largely on what you were raised to think but have never questioned? Are there, even,  certain artifacts hidden away in your home that you keep simply because they belonged to a great grandfather or grandmother? If so, think about why you keep them, why you believe what you believe, why you cling to what you cling to, what you might shed of your family’s past if you could (or what you would not), and then write about it.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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American academic and political advisor, Stanley "Huck" Gutman, who writes a newsletter about poetry which is distributed by email and through the UVM listserv, "Poetry."

See below for links to pages featuring some of the works that Huck and I discuss during the interview. 

This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Huck Gutman, who writes:

The surprising subject of many, many poems of the past two hundred years has been the need to pay attention to what is right in front of us, of what is so ‘ordinary’ that we look at it, through it, but don’t see it.  In some sense, our lived reality is invisible to us; in our habitual movement through our lives, we don’t pay attention to what is actually there in front of us and around us.

So as a writing prompt, I would suggest writing about something right in front of you that you don’t normally ‘see.’  For many, this is an object; for some, like Wordsworth, it is a person who seems ordinary but who has that amazing spark that is the emblem of life. 

 Among the life of ordinary things is where our existence takes place.  A poem can recognize that in the ‘ordinary’ are the things that make our world our world.  Write about such a thing.  (If you want to see what this looks like, lots of William Carlos Williams poems do this; so do a lot of poems by Elizabeth Bishop; so do the remarkable ‘Odes’ to common things that Pablo Neruda wrote in the later years of his life…) (For ‘ordinary’ people, there is Wordsworth; there is always that superlative writer – though not a poet – Anton Chekov. )

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

Works Discussed:

Paul Celan, "Once" 

T.S. Eliot, "The Waste Land"

Zbigniew Herbert, "Five Men"

Tim O'Brien, "The Things They Carried"

Stevie Smith, "Not Waving But Drowning"

Wallace Stevens, "Sunday Morning"

Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself 47 "

C.K. Williams, "Jew On Bridge"

William Carlos Williams:

"Calypso II"

"This is Just to Say"

"Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"

William Wordsworth, Extracts from the Prelude: [Ascent of Snowdon]

Paul Zimmer, "A Romance for the Wild Turkey"

 

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A conversation with Vermont author Ginny Sassaman, whose new book is Preaching Happiness: Creating a Just and Joyful World (Rootstock).

For a Write the Book Prompt, write about what has made you happy in the past week.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

This is one of several shorter interviews Shelagh is conducting with Vermont authors whose new books have had their tours upended by Corona.  

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An interview from the archives with the author Ann Patchett about her essay collection, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage (Harper Perennial). 

Recent impeachment coverage has me remembering that, when I was nine years old, Richard Nixon’s impeachment hearings were on the television every afternoon, pre-empting my cartoons. This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to write about a child’s perspective on some contemporary political moment.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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A new interview with the author Douglas Glover about his  collection of essays on literary form, The Erotics of Restraint (Biblioasis). 

When Douglas Glover and I spoke, he mentioned that, as he was developing his craft, he would make lists of conflicted situations in a notebook. Then, when he wanted to begin a new project, he'd read through his notebook to find a promising conflicted situation with which to start. He doesn't know what the plot will be as he begins, but he does still always know the conflict. This week, make a list of conflicts from which you might draw an interesting situation to use in your writing.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion. 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont Author Emily Arnason Casey, whose debut essay collection is Made Holy

(Crux: The Georgia Series in Literary Nonfiction). 

This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by my guest, Emily Arnason Casey, during our live conversation. It's one she's used in a recent class: write about a place you can't return to. See if you can find an object in that landscape of memory that gives you some direction or shapes your understanding of that place.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

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Author Jane Alison, whose latest is Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative (Catapult). 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Jane Alison, who led a workshop recently that was studying Grace Paley’s story “Distance.” A phrase in the story includes the words, “the picture in the muck under their skulls…” Jane loved this line. She says we all have such pictures “in the muck under our skulls” - those moments that have formed or deformed us, that haunt us. Maybe places we want to return to, or moments that will not leave us. So this week, think if there’s some moment or image from your recent or long-ago past, a deeply imbedded thing that can still glimmer before your eyes, or make you feel homesick, or has a mysterious potency to it. A moment that could become an important part of a story about your life, or perhaps part of a story that you would invent about someone like you. Write about it, and let its magnetism lead you as you work. See what comes out of the muck.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

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Vermont Author and Musician Tony Whedon, whose essay collection Drunk In the Woods (Green Writers Press) was recently nominated for the Vermont Book Award.

I announced this week's "official" Write the Book Prompt after the broadcast's first interview, with Megan Price, but here's another: find a recording of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" (which Tony mentions in one of the poems read in this interview). Here's one. Play it. Turn it up, play it again. Don't like jazz? Don't be ridiculous. Turn it up and play it again! Sit down and write. See what happens. 

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion! (Now play it again!!!) 

Music Credit: Aaron Shapiro

 

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Live, in-studio interview with Vermont author and UVM faculty member Emily Bernard, with her new book, Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine (Knopf).

This week's Write the Book Prompt was generously suggested by my guest, Emily Bernard. Here it is, in her words:  

I tell my creative writing students that the best villains are born in ambivalence. A good rule of thumb is to let the reader love a villain first, before you condemn them. If a character is wholly loathsome, we readers might ask why you are asking us to spend so much time with them, or why you allowed them inside in the first place? For this writing prompt, choose someone who treated you unkindly from your past or your present and write about them, focusing on the one thing—a skill, quirk, personality trait, etc.-- that makes them lovable.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music: Aaron Shapiro

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Interview from the archives with Canadian Author Douglas Glover. We discussed his book of craft essays, Attack of the Copula Spiders (Biblioasis).

Early in his essay collection, Doug Glover asserts this about point of view in fiction:

Point of view is the mental modus operandi of the person who is telling or experiencing the story--most often this is the protagonist. This mental modus operandi is located in a fairly simple construct involving desire, significant history and language overlay. The writer generally tries to announce the desire, goal or need of the primary character as quickly as possible. the key here is to make this desire concrete and simple. 

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to look at the point of view in what you are working on and ask yourself: is this character’s desire clear? Is it concrete and simple? Do I introduce it quickly enough? How might I improve on the early presentation of my point of view character?

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and tune in next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music: Aaron Shapiro

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